|Since the start of the pandemic, Cerise Jacobs and her activist opera company, White Snake Projects, have been developing a trilogy of virtual operas revolving around populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19: essential workers, the incarcerated, and survivors of intimate partner violence. Now Sing Out Strong: Remembered Voices, the fifth installment of White Snake’s popular community song initiative, takes on the overwhelming loss of life since 2020, exemplified by ten families with loved ones who have fallen victim to the virus. Premiering on March 11, the performance marks the day two years ago that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. Tickets are free, with a requested donation going to support Mourning Our Losses. To register for free tickets to Sing Out Strong: Remembered Voices, click here.
With the idea of creating a musical memorial to all the lives lost to COVID by focusing on a cross-section of specific stories, WSP located ten families willing to participate in Sing Out Strong: Remembered Voices by sharing memories of their loved ones. The lyrics for the songs are mostly the words of the families, with one exception: the youngest honoree, 31-year-old Leslie Lamar Parker, was an advocate for at-risk youth, videographer, and psychologist who himself left written reflections about the impact of the pandemic on his family before losing his own life. Other honorees include Raymond Reeves, a rancher who never tired of describing the incomparable Texas sunsets to his children; Celio Salgueiro, a loving father who “could fix anything with his hands” and had a passion for rebuilding his red Volkswagen Beetle; Nola Mae Moore, a doctor who practiced for 35 years, volunteered at the YMCA and loved outdoor adventures into her eighties; Hisaki Araya, a beloved twin brother institutionalized for schizophrenia; Wade Hickam, an avid blues musician memorialized by his family and bandmates; Darrell “Billy” Parks, who sang in the choir of Trenton State Prison where he was incarcerated and laughed with his sister about their shared childhood exploits during her visits; Mohammad Jawed, a passionate doctor who continued to care for patients during the pandemic even while fighting cancer himself; Eric William Warner, who studied law in the library of the prison where he was incarcerated and helped hundreds fight for their rights; and Michael Johnson, a Bronx man with a Brazilian wife and a chihuahua named Max – as his wife Sandra remembers: “Every night, we’d sit on the sofa watching TV, Michael, Max and me.”
As befits a subject of critical importance to the entire globe, the ten people portrayed in these works hailed from Pakistan, Brazil, Japan, the contiguous United States and Hawaii, and the composers are likewise multiethnic and multinational, with a corresponding variety of styles. More than 100 applicants from all over the world responded to the call for composers, and the ten selected include natives of the U.S., China, Turkey, and Lebanon. These composers were each paired with one of the families and met with them to work on the texts, submitting everything for their approval. The composers for the project are Brian Brown, Andrew Davis, Wajdi Abou Diab, Jon Grier, Robert Howard, Chia-Yu Hsu, Rachel J. Peters, John Turner, Dorian Wallace, and Nihan Yesil.
The families were also asked to provide photos or other mementos to be used by WSP’s projections designer Paul Deziel, who also designed the projections for Death by Life, the second opera in the Pandemic Trilogy. The performances will incorporate these images, as well as being punctuated by 30-second clips allowing both families and composers to give introductions to the subject of each work.
Performers for Sing Out Strong: Remembered Voices include soprano Leslie Ann Bradley, who “brings the stage to life whenever she steps into the spotlight” (Toronto Star); baritone Justin Welsh, whose voice has been described as “impressively rich” by Opera News; and tenor Omar Najmi, praised by San Diego Story for his “clarion, luxuriously Italianate voice” and also a composer whose music will be featured in WSP’s Let’s Celebrate! in 2023. Music Director Tian Hui Ng conducts the duo of Turkish cellist Ezgi Karakus, co-director of Soundwave Academy and a member of Ensemble Iberia; and pianist Nathan Ben-Yehuda, winner of the 2017 Yamaha Young Performing Artists award.